Not many players would find a silver lining in giving up 50 points to any one of the NBA's biggest stars, but then not many players face a nightly assault like Milwaukee's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
"If someone gets 50 [points] but they had to take tough shots all night, I'm happy with that, especially if we win," the Bucks' 6-foot-8 forward said. "It doesn't matter how much they score, because that's what they're going to do, so you just have to make it tough on them."
Success isn't an absolute for Mbah a Moute and a handful of players who have to defend each team's top offensive threat on the perimeter. Wing defenders can't camp out in the lane and wait to absorb the elbows, shoulders and hips of an opposing big man. They face a more arduous task, dependent on anticipation, quickness and tenacity to avoid becoming highlight victims by the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
"I gauge success by how [an opposing player] got [his points]," said Denver's Arron Afflalo, who has chased Bryant around the floor more than a few times this season. "Are they impacting the game? Are they taking a lot of shots? Am I keeping them off the foul line? Am I forcing my teammates to always have to help me?"
An introspective mind isn't the only thing a good defender needs. Here are some other necessary traits, according to a few league scouts and coaches:
Length: "A good perimeter defender is going to be in situations at times when he has to defend a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward and sometimes a power forward," an Eastern Conference scout said. "Length is important in that respect. If the defender is guarding a point guard, that length helps him make up for the quickness disadvantage. And if he's guarding a power forward or stuck having to front a guy in the post, his length helps take away the easy passing angle."
A dependable system: "Good defenders in a bad program don't look good," said Ron Adams, an assistant for the Thunder and the architect of a defense that ranks sixth in opponents' field-goal shooting (44.6 percent). "It's not just about getting a guy with innate ability and saying, 'Play hard.' A lot of it is the program, that you're in a system where you are taught an on-the-ball philosophy, where challenging shots is emphasized. And [learning] angles and how to play those angles.
"If you're in a system that teaches a philosophy, whatever it is, and the team is consistent in teaching it, then those kind of guys really shine."
Help: Defending the wings is a task fraught with risk, one in which even the best are certain to get beat to the basket. And that's why a "big guy who has your back is important," the East scout said. So, too, is a point guard who can play the ball well. Pressure at the point of attack is critical to disrupting an offense and putting an opposing team's star in an uncomfortable situation before he can pick up a head of steam.
Tenacity: "The physical things are important, but No. 1 is you have to have a will," Adams said. "There are a lot of bogus defenders who get voted on these [All-Defensive] teams, in my estimation. There are a lot of unsung guys who work day in and day out, and most of these guys have determined that [playing defense] is how they exist and that they can get ahead by doing what they do defensively. They've internalized that you can win that way and they see themselves as being important parts of the team."
So maybe a willingness to reflect is crucial to finding the type of mind-set that makes for a good defender. After all, Bruce Bowen didn't start for champion Spurs teams because of his 6.1-point career scoring average. With Bowen having retired, we asked a few scouts and coaches: Who might leave the mark defensively on this year's postseason?
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers. Great length, young and surprisingly quick and agile. "He's wiry strong," said a West scout, who added that he could see the 6-8 forward log minutes against 7-footer Dirk Nowitzkiand the 6-2 Jason Terry if Portland meets the Mavs in the postseason.
Gerald Wallace, Bobcats. "He just plays his ass off," the West scout said. "He's a lockdown defender who has a great nose for the ball. He doesn't have Ron Artest's strength, but he has better quickness. And he's multidimensional. He's a guy who can guard 2s and some 4s in spots."
Arron Afflalo, Nuggets. A great physical talent who has "decent foot quickness," the West scout said. "He can lock down on the ball when he wants to." When might that be? Anytime he wants to, according the man himself. "I don't think anybody has ever given me problems," Afflalo said. "It usually doesn't take me long to see who I can take advantage of defensively."
Rajon Rondo, Celtics. "He's got great shoulder width, which, physically, makes it hard to get past him," the West scout said. A good on-ball defender, Rondo's long arms also make him effective in defending and disrupting pick-and-rolls.
Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder. "Thabo can guard multiple positions," Adams said. "So we use him in many cases to guard point guards." That's not all the 6-5 swingman can do, as Kobe can attest after turning the ball over nine times in his latest clash with the Thunder. In assigning Sefolosha to cover the big scorers such as Bryant, "it allows [the Thunder] to protect Kevin Durant and put him on someone who is maybe a lesser offensive player," Adams said.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Bucks. "It all kind of revolves around his feet," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "He moves very well laterally, so he can get down and guard smaller people. But he's not afraid to use his body on bigger people."
Ron Artest, Lakers. Though not as swift as some of his contemporaries on this list, "he doesn't gamble with speed," the Wes scout said. "He's got incredible strength and a great court sense. He's a little more effective outside and playing the passing lanes, and when he wants to be he is really tough."
Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz. "His body had changed a little bit, he's filled out," the East scout said. "He's not the thin, rangy guy he once was. Still, he's surprisingly nimble and versatile. ... He's got a great sense for the ball. He knows how to play defense."
No matter how loved any of the above are by scouts and coaches, all are sure to be forced to swallow their measure of pride in the coming weeks. But good defense isn't necessarily reflected in the scoring column.
"Over the course of time, the most important element is how hard you make someone work for his shots, how often you can make him go to his second or third options," the East scout said. "A good defender is the guy who's going to make his man have to make more than one field goal per point. Guys like LeBron and Wade and [Paul] Pierce are good enough that they are going to get their points. You have to make them work."
• Rick Adelman. The Rockets' coach on Wednesday won his 900th game. The milestone marks a good time to acknowledge the career accomplishments of a vastly underrated coach: a .610 career winning percentage, two Western Conference titles, 11 50-win seasons and only two seasons under .500 in 18 full years on the bench.
• Manu Ginobili as a starter. The silver lining in Tony Parker's 16-game absence with a broken hand was the re-emergence of Ginobili, who was posting some of the most subdued numbers of his career before stepping back into the first unit March 8. With Parker sidelined, the 32-year-old guard averaged 25.5 points and led the Spurs to an 11-5 record during a stretch that included victories against Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and the Lakers.
• Mikhail Prokhorov. From his Russian playboy portrait on 60 Minutes to mulling a potential offer for Mike Krzyzewski that reportedly would have been worth $12-$15 million, the incoming New Jersey owner has offered more than a few clues that the Nets aren't likely to play in the Knicks' shadow much longer.
• Matt Barnes' poise. After a verbal tug-of-war with Magic coach StanVan Gundy over some quick hooks in games recently, Barnes tussled with Grizzlies rookie Hasheem Thabeet last Sunday -- an altercation that ended with Barnes getting ejected and throwing his jersey into the crowd. And this came after confronting fans in San Antonio two nights before the Memphis incident. "I like what [Matt] brings in terms of his intensity," Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. "I think some of the emotion is very good, but obviously it can't blow over to where we don't have you in the game." Van Gundy may need to make good on that threat when playoff teams target Barnes like they have with RasheedWallace in years past.
• Eddie Jordan's long-term prospects in Philadelphia. As if guiding the Sixers to a 26-52 mark and allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent wasn't enough to likely lose his job, now Jordan has taken to benching his players without warning, as he did Tuesday in a 21-point loss to the Pistons. After quietly limiting Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert to 12 minutes each, Jordan criticized their lack of energy and focus. Brand felt the rotation change was "premeditated." Dalembert said "nothing makes sense to me" and referred a question about whether Jordan had lost the team to the coach.
• Andray Blatche's maturity. Two weeks after coach Flip Saunders publicly scolded his young center for refusing to enter a game, Blatche demonstrated that he had learned ... nothing. A rebound away from a triple-double in a recent win over the Nets, Blatche upbraided teammates, gestured angrily and threw up errant, rebound-worthy shots in the closing seconds in an effort for personal glory.
The Cavaliers have secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight season. What could trip up LeBron James and Co. en route to the Finals? We asked a scout for his thoughts.
"They're going to have some problems when they bring Shaquille O'Neal back. They've played for a month at a faster pace in games that were more fun for them where driving lanes were available. They've had active guys in the post with J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. And they've had Antawn Jamison to space the floor. Now all of a sudden you're bringing in a plodder. That changes the style of play all over again.
"Getting used to a rhythm of how they can keep everybody happy is crucial, and Mike Brown can only do so much because he is not so much a coach as he is a manager. LeBron is the coach of that team. Brown makes the initial changes and calls, but when it comes down to crunch time, LeBron calls the plays. When the game is tight, he takes the ball, he brings it up, he runs what he wants to run. Those guys don't even look at Brown.
"Defensively, Shaq's return could force them into some tough decisions since neither he nor Zydrunas Ilgauskas gets out on pick-and-rolls. So the first thing any opponent is going to do is put those guys in pick-and-rolls away from the basket. While Varejao and Hickson can try to pick up that guy who sets the screen and is rolling to the basket, what happens if a team puts a pick-and-pop guy there? If Orlando sits Dwight Howard for a time and the screener is Rashard Lewis, are you going to put Z and Shaq on the bench? Then you're going to have Jamison out there and he's not a good defender."
• "Look, if we dial in, we know we can kill anybody."-- Owner Mark Cuban assesses the Mavs as the playofffs approach.
• "I thought we was playing Michael [bleepin'] Jordan tonight."-- Kevin Garnett decries the 15 free throws Kevin Durant shot in a 109-104 Thunder win in Boston. The Celtics shot 17 free throws as a team.
• "I highly endorse it. I think it's a wonderful thing to do."-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson sarcastically offers his approval of the $35,000 fine he received from the NBA after criticizing officials following a loss to the Spurs.
• "They would love it. It would show he is stupid money, and not a competitive threat."-- Cuban offers his view on how other NBA owners would respond if one of their own offered $15 million a year to a coach. The Nets were rumored to be considering such an offer to Mike Krzyzewski.
• "Somehow when you call up and tell somebody, 'Look, I've got a registered sex offender, alcoholic, who is grossly overpaid, how would you like to take him off my roster?' You don't get a lot of bites."-- Former Blazers front office chief Steve Patterson on his trouble in trading away ex-Blazer Ruben Patterson.
• "I'm not trying to bash Jerry or anything like that because he's a good guy and I respect him. I don't respect [his comments] because of the commitment we've all given to the USA."-- LeBron reacts to Team USA president Jerry Colangelo's statement that there would be no free passes for any players to the 2012 Olympics should they skip this summer's world championships.
• "We appreciate the fact they're willing to give their time. We have to be flexible. Some players may have to miss for whatever the reason may be -- contracts, injuries, family issues ... free agency this year is big."-- Colangelo cedes the battle to James.
• "My mom struggled supporting us at that time."-- Thunder coach Scott Brooks talks about the team's 3-29 start last season.
•Rockford Register Star:Dennis Rodman, family man. Seriously. No, we mean it.
•Washington Post: Wondering what's in store for Gilbert Arenas during his stay at a Maryland halfway house? A short mattress and lots of chores.
•Sacramento Bee: Former Kings guard Bobby Jackson hits the road as a scout to start a front-office career he hopes makes him a GM someday.
•San Jose Mercury News: What kind of owner might Larry Ellison be if he purchases the Warriors? One who is as aggressive as he is wealthy.
•Denver Post: A sobering look at George Karl's cancer fight.
1.Chris Bosh, who could miss the rest of the season after sustaining a facial fracture, might have played his final game with the Raptors. If he indeed does leave as a free agent this summer, the Raptors will have no one to blame but themselves. The idea of building an Eastern Conference version of the high-scoring Suns may have seemed appealing when former Phoenix GM Bryan Colangelo undertook the task four years ago, but the bottom line is winning, and the Raptors have not done that enough to compel Bosh to stay. As ugly as it may be to watch, defense still rules spring basketball. And the Raptors have done little but pay the concept compliments while rolling the ball out to defensive sieves such as Hedo Turkoglu, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, with little clear intent to force them to change their ways. As a result, the Raptors are last in defensive efficiency and in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
2. Nice job by the Timberwolves to drum up ticket sales in a bad economy for a team that has won only four games since Feb. 1. Throughout March, the Wolves dropped some season-ticket prices for next season by as much as 50 percent and offered a handful at $10 per game. According to public-relations director Mike Cristaldi, the campaign generated 1,200 new season-ticket sales (ranking among the top five in the league) and prompted 80 percent of current season-ticket holders to renew, compared to 13 percent last season.
3. A few weeks ago, we criticized Nets CEO Brett Yormark for arguing with a fan who wore a paper bag over his head during a game in New Jersey. To Yormark's credit, he made amends by inviting the fan to a brown-bag lunch at the Nets' offices, and their discussion about New Jersey's future was streamed live over the team's Web site. Yes, it was a PR stunt, but it was the right kind, demonstrating remorse in some measure while at least acknowledging that fans' opinions count.